Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dear Laurie Berkner

Dear Laurie Berkner,

We had the privilege to see hear you in concert at Ravinia this past weekend, and was it a sweet trip down memory lane for me!

Laurie Berkner was a name I held precious to my heart when Dear Daughter was a toddler.  As a new mommy who learned about All-Things-Toddlers, I came across the exquisite Laurie Berkner Band and completely fell in love with this children's music singer-songwriter and her band mates.

Let's rewind about seven years.  I met my BFF shortly after both our DDs turned two-years-old.  We then enrolled the girls in an early childhood recreational program designed to bring the outdoors into an indoor open space (great for our brutal winters).  Under age-appropriate instruction, parents and tots used this large, open space to shake out our wiggles and dance to children's music.  Was I ever glad when I found out that this educational facility used Laurie Berkner's songs in its curriculum!

In my recollection, that was a very memorable time in my life.  I had finally kicked Infertility in the rear and had myself a precious little girl, became a mommy, and embarked on my brand new journey of Raising a Child.  Perhaps a little more overzealous because she was a Miracle Baby, or perhaps it was just in my personality to parent her this way--DD became the focus and priority of my life.  Since I was granted this Gift, I wasn't going to screw it up.  I was going to do my darnedest to provide what it took to bring up a happy, loving child.  Our new mommy-daughter life was filled with exclusive time together.

Every week, DD and I would run around the open space in the recreational program singing 'I'm Gonna Catch You' and taking turns chasing and pretending to catch one another.  These chases always included smiles and laughter.  I'm gonna catch you, you better run; I'm gonna catch you, here I come!  How can anyone not smile to those words when one is chasing or being chased for fun?

After plenty of running, we'd march to the tune of 'We Are the Dinosaurs' and stomp to the lyrics of 'Boots'.  We'd buzz-buzz to the song, 'Bumblebee', and boogie to the music of 'I Really Love to Dance'.  We'd play with balls and hoops and inclines and ramps and bubbles until it was time to clean up to the song, 'Clean It Up'.  I may have looked forward to these weekly classes a tiny bit more than DD.  It was that exciting.

If you've had the pleasure of hearing some of Laurie's songs, or are a Laurie Berkner Band fan yourself, then you'd know.  You'd know her friendly, happy voice singing upbeat, rhythmic songs.  You'd be familiar with the content of her songs--so relevant for little people, so appropriate for their inquiring minds, so full of wonder, joy, and charm.  You'd have heard her strum a few chords on her guitar and know exactly what song it will be.  You'd have already known the delight her songs bring to you and your children.

A few years later, Dear Son came along.  We had moved to the suburbs, and could no longer enroll him in the same class.  I tried to pass on our love for Laurie Berkner's songs to him, but to no avail.  He'd bop to 'We Are the Dinosaurs' every now and then, but that was about all the excitement he let on.  To each his own, I suppose.  By age two, DS was decidedly into techno pop music (as in Black Eyed Peas), and, later, pop-rock-dance music (as in Katy Perry).  Yeah--don't ask: it's his loss.  (Incidentally, the exact same thing happened to BFF's second-born.  Go figure.)

So when BFF and I found out that Laurie Berkner was having a concert here, we made a date!  The concert was at Ravinia, an outdoor concert venue where families and friends picnic on the lawn and listen to the music (or, purchase tickets for the stage seating area to watch the concert).  We picnicked and listened, had yummy food and bopped to the music, enjoyed the great outdoors and got a little choked up.  Well, that last one was just yours truly.

As soon as I heard Laurie's voice, I felt like I was three-years-old.  Despite not being able to see her, my eyes lit up, I breathed a little bit faster, and I felt my body bouncing to the beat of her songs.  Soon, I was singing with her--songs that I hadn't heard for many years--just like I did when DD was a tot.  DD would announce to me that she remembers many songs, and DS would chime in, too, on a few of which he had some recollection.  Best of all, there were smiles and dancing all around.

The park was filled with families with young children--some in strollers, mostly preschoolers.  They all danced and jumped and clapped and followed Laurie's singing directions.  Everyone was having a blast.  I watched these younger children and felt quite humbled.  We've moved beyond that stage already: the crawling, the beginning walking, the potty training.  I looked that their young parents and felt for what they were probably going through.  Maybe.  Not really.

It felt bittersweet.

When I had a chance, I walked up to the stage area to see my beloved children's music singer-songwriter.  She was wearing an adorable poofy dress, a pair of Mary Jane shoes, and outfitted with her signature instrument across her shoulder--the acoustic guitar.  The stage was fabulous, made of a colorful backdrop with images related to her songs.  I even felt a bit starstruck, as I was seeing with my own bare eyes--for the very first time--the singer that I had for so long admired and loved.  Snap, snap, snap, but that up there was the best that I could get from far away.

Laurie performed this song near the end--one of  my very favorites:

The concert breezed by in an hour.  It is the end of an era, as my BFF proclaimed.  We'll still come across her songs, I'm sure, but it will not be under the same circumstances as they were seven years ago.  All those precious moments flashed by, and I felt a tiny lump in my throat. 

So, Dear Laurie Berkner, some things never get old.  Your songs will never get old for me.  They will always take me back to that very special time in my life and remind me of the early years with my DD.  Because your songs fill my DD's baby book, your voice is my lullaby, and your music--my time machine.  Thank you for the magic that you have strummed and sung into our early childhood and parenthood lives!  I can always count on listening to your music and feeling like a little kid again.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Dear Blueberries

Dear Blueberries,

You are as summer as pies get.  And jams.  And pancakes.

On our way home from our Michigan trip, we stopped at a blueberry farm to pick blueberries.  It was exciting.  It was our first time.  It was 90+ degrees.

I had been so sick of applying sunscreen that I opted to wear a long sleeve white linen shirt instead.  In 90+ degrees.

We got three buckets and started our way down the first lane.  The kiddos got busy picking.  Dear Husband and I got busy--photographing.  DH snapped away at the kiddos picking blueberries for the first time, while I got busy snapping photos for bloggy matters.

We were so efficient at picking blueberries that we were done going down one lane and coming back the second.  We were so fast at picking blueberries that we were done in fifteen minutes.  We were so good at picking blueberries that we only had to pay all of $1.82 for the berries we picked.  We took our prized little baggy of blueberries and our sweat-drenched bodies and bright pink cheeks into our car, drove down the block to the farm store, and bought a ten pound box of blueberries.  Fresh-picked.  By some awesome machine.

Ten whole pounds of blueberries became my treasured ingredient.  I had grand plans for them!  I froze some for later, gave some away, and had enough leftover to eat and bake.  First, I made blueberry pancakes by just popping a few onto the bubbling batter on the griddle.  They made ordinary pancakes burst with summer flavor.

Next, I wanted to makes some blueberry jam.  But because I don't know how to properly can/jar foods, nor do I have the equipment to do so, I decided to find an easy recipe to bypass all that.  This is the very simple recipe I used for making Easy Blueberry Jam:

  • 5 cups fresh blueberries, picked over, washed
  • 3/4 cups sugar (adjust to your own likings--I've seen from 1/2 cup to 2 cups)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt

  1. Combine all ingredients into a medium saucepan.  Mash to release juices.
  2. Cook over medium-high heat until bubbling, and lower heat to prevent splattering, while stiring the entire time.
  3. Cook and stir for 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.  
  4. Pour into clean jars. 
(Makes about 2 1/2 cups.  Refrigerate for up to one month.)

This recipe was adapted from Real Simple's Blueberry Jam.  I made two jars: one to keep and one to gift.  It is super easy and really delicious.

Finally, I had to get ready for baking my blueberry pie.  You see, I make pies only twice a year.  A blueberry pie in the summer and an apple pie for Thanksgiving.  (But I'm working on adding a peach pie in there at some point.)  I had gotten two pie-making tools that I could not wait to use: a pie ring (that keeps the pie edge from burning while baking) and a pastry cutter (for making the flaky pie crust).  I used to manually fold aluminum foil to cover the edge (which burned my fingertips), and cut the butter into the flour with forks (which took a very long time).  This time, I was all ready to make my Summer Blueberry Pie!

I swear by The Joy of Cooking for classic recipes.  And they never fail me.  As you know, the crust is what makes a pie, so a lot of love (and arm muscles) went into it.  Also, I always use my wax paper trick for making pie crusts and cut-out cookies, and it works superbly (if you are hesitant to make pie crust or have a hard time rolling it out, read this tip.)  The pie is unbelievably good.  The crust is flaky and crunchy, and complemented perfectly the sweet and juicy blueberries.  Each bite is a taste of summer's brilliant flavor and luscious texture.  A blueberry pie is fruitfully divine.

I hope you enjoy the slideshow of our Michigan blueberries and what they eventually morphed into:

So, Dear Blueberries, you are truly a delectable fruit for the summer.  Even though the pie is all gone, I still have jam to enjoy for a few more weeks.  You--shiny sapphire beauties, full of sweet nectar, bursting with berry essence, offering stickiness left on my lips and taste melded onto my tongue--are pearls of summer delight that I covet.  Because beauty is something as simple and as little as you.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dear Sentimental Schmuck

Dear Sentimental Schmuck,

Is that you, there, in the mirror right in front of me?  What's that I see in your eyes, again?

I was told that when I was little--even before I could remember--that I would get sad and cry over sentimental cartoons.  The first time I do remember crying over a movie was in the theater for Dead Poets Society.  I was maybe sixteen at the time, and the final powerful moment in that movie had such an impact on me that I just started sobbing uncontrollably when all the boys got up and stood on their desks.  It was a very defining moment for me, since it all just happened naturally and I felt as if I was on the verge of being an adult--now that I have grownup feelings and can cry over a movie and all.  It felt like a triumph--a sort of loss of innocence--that I just 'grew up' right there in that theater. 

Well, the tears have not stopped since.

Over the years, I've cried over countless movies.  When I was pregnant and the hormones were raging, I'd cry over silly commercials.  I cried at the births of my kiddos, their many milestones, during more movies, watching TV shows, reading books, articles, and even blogs. 

If you want to see me turn on the water works, just watch me watch an episode of Grey's Anatomy.  That show gets me every time.  Even when I know it's cliche and predictable and completely fictional.  Somehow the script and the actors just tug at my heartstrings.  I've mentioned before how some classical music and folk music can just conjure up tears in my eyes.  I can even add a list of modern pop music from artists such as Adele and Joshua James.  Even if I'm not feeling sentimental at the moment, you can still be sure that all the hair on my body will do a standing ovation when I hear certain touching songs.

So while it makes perfect sense and is socially accepted to cry watching movies or listening to music, it's another story when there's personal interactions involved--when crying feels embarrassing to me.  During a parent-teacher conference for Dear Daughter when she was in second grade, I had such an embarrassing moment. 

It was the first conference of the year, and I didn't know her teacher very well yet.  She was kind, smiling, and very complimentary of DD.  She showed me her work in a folder, and asked me to read her writing sample to see what they were working on.  The story DD wrote was about family, and while I don't remember the details, I remember reading it and my eyes started to tingle and were starting to well up.  The teacher continued to say all kinds of really wonderful things about DD, and I had myself a Mommy Moment right there in that classroom.  I felt so proud of DD that I realized I wasn't going to be able to force stop my eyes from becoming pink or glistening.  I also couldn't really avoid eye contact with the teacher since I didn't want to be rude.  Several times, I wanted to just explain I was feeling overwhelmed from being proud of DD, but I never found the right time to insert that sentiment while the teacher kept on talking about her progress.

I knew she was looking at me and my then-red-and-moist eyes, wondering why I was teary and just kept nodding.  Finally, after enduring those awkward moments, I decided to just forget it and not explain why I was being so sentimental over my kid's work so that I didn't have to face the actual overflow of tears from my eyes down my cheeks.  I pushed the tears back as hard as I could, blinked away any remaining wetness, and hoped that the white of my eyes were, in fact, white again.

Soon, the teacher was coming to the end of her report, and asked me if I had any issues, concerns, or questions.  I had come to the conference with only one issue to discuss, and that was to let the teacher know about DD's personality for her to keep in mind.  So I took a deep breath and said, "I just want to let you know that DD is a highly sensitive child," at which point I realized that my eyes were still moist and probably not white.  The teacher looked at me, cocked her head, and said, "Oh, so what sorts of things is she sensitive about?"

Wait.  Let me take my foot out of my mouth and then I'll answer your question.

I quickly explained that she can get teary over certain things, such as panicking over unfamiliar situations, or when she doesn't know how to do something new, such as when she's learning a new violin piece.  This short discussion basically lead to my understanding that DD holds herself up really well in school, and probably lets her guard down more at home, specifically with me.  Now feeling even more frustrated with myself and my uncontrollable misty eyes, I blurted out, "Well, she probably just takes after me."

And let me just shove my foot back into my mouth again.

I did live through that experience, and was able to face the same teacher throughout that year effortlessly and tearless-ly, fortunately.  But I've learned that as the kiddos get bigger, and I have more Mommy Moments, the tears are only going to come more often, more unexpectedly, and with more volume.

It has gotten so bad that when I see someone else' teary eyes looking back at me, I start to walk the uncontrollable path to tears myself.  It's almost like a reflex.  And I've come to realize the reason why: our eyes really are the windows to our souls.  Our eyes tell our stories, our feelings, our emotions, our wants and dislikes, our dreams and fears.  If the person whose eyes I'm looking at is a Kindred Spirit, our eyes communicate--for those split seconds without words--and tell each other 'why'.  My welling up with tears upon feeling someone else' emotions becomes more than a natural process; it is a silent declaration of acceptance.  It means, I understand.

While I don't believe that crying is a sign of weakness, I don't like to cry in front of people I don't know well.  Because people who know me will understand my tears.  People who don't--may not.  Tears are the Gatekeepers of Vulnerability, and so of course we would only want to feel vulnerable in a safe place.  And that is why I easily feel embarrassed if my tears precede my consciousness.

Just the other day, I hugged a young lady goodbye and wished her good luck in college. When I turned to leave, I felt that ever so slight tinge of souring wetness in my eyes.  I had to look down and leave the crowd before anyone caught sight of it.  Sometimes it's just not the right time or right place, you know?  But later, after I was done feeling embarrassed, it dawned on me why I felt so emotional by that goodbye.  It is because that event is in my own future, when my own DD will one day leave to go off to college, and I will be staying behind and wishing her good luck.  I know it is still quite a few years away, but it's there, and it's inevitable.  And I felt it.

Suffice it to say, life experiences enrich our emotions and nurture our souls.  The older we get, the more we feel, the more we relate to one another, and the more vulnerable we become.  This certainly explains why we equate immaturity with insensitivity.  When we gain enough life experience and years behind us, we finally begin to feel as a part of this world--this Humanity United--instead of against the world, or the world being against us.  We are then At Peace.

So, Dear Sentimental Schmuck-in-the-mirror, yes, I admit it: you are a true reflection of me.  Sometimes so much so that I'm more than a little embarrassed.  And at this rate, when I'm old, wrinkly, and gray, I'll be sobbing away like a baby at everything.  But maybe by then I won't be embarrassed, since I'll hold the trump card of Age and Wisdom.  And you know what?  I really cannot wait to reach the point where I won't have a care in the world even when tears stream down my cheeks.  Because I know that Vulnerability won't stand a chance against the Peace I'll have within me by then.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Dear Swiss-Chard-From-My-Backyard

Dear Swiss-Chard-From-My-Backyard,

As it was my first time growing you this summer, you have humbled me with your presence in my backyard.  And my experience with you has been nothing short of amazing.

Back when I went to Home Depot to pick out what to grow in my new box garden, I knew I was going to get tomatoes and herbs.  I also picked up some healthy-looking string beans and red bell pepper plants.  Inadvertently, I saw in the corner of my eye a small container of four Swiss chard plants.  They were the only ones left on the shelf.

I had only ever eaten Swiss chard once, years ago, in some fancy downtown restaurant known for its comfort food cooking (I know, the irony).  Among some traditional dishes such as mac and cheese and pot roast, we ordered Swiss chard for some greens.  It was delicious.  I never bought or cooked any myself since then, just because I'm not familiar with the vegetable, but when I spotted this last ready-to-grow pot, I snatched it up right away because of the fond memory from that restaurant.  Boy, was it a great choice!

As the tiny four plants--no more than 4 inches tall each--began to grow, I noticed that the stalks all had different colors: white, yellow, orange, and red.  These colors were fabulous, but the veins of the leaves were even more stunning.  Spreading out like branches into the leaves, the smooth colorful veins contrasted the wrinkly, green of the leaves.  Never have I thought something so wrinkled could be so beautiful.  After rain, water beads on the glossy leaves, and you can almost taste the tenderness of the leaves just by looking at them.

I read that the leaves are ready for harvest once they reach about 18 inches in height.  With much anticipation, I waited and waited until they were ready, and went to snip off the long, lustrous leaves.  Baby leaves were starting to sprout by the base of the plants, and these lighter-colored young leaves just kept coming up.  The mature leaves were dark green, shiny, and full of luster.  Each leaf was just about as perfect as can be.

I decided to saute my first batch of Swiss chard with garlic, onions, and tomatoes with a little olive oil.  The chard is earthy in taste, very similar to spinach, but more refined, substantial, and buttery.  I am a dark green leafy kind of person, so this suited me just superbly.  Dear Husband liked it, too, but the kiddos are still weary of green foods.  Dear Daughter at least tasted it and had a few bites.  I'm trying to get her used to more pungent leafy vegetables, so this was a good first step.  Dear Son?  Not so much.

Believe it or not, every week or so, the chard plants yielded me a harvest enough for a saute.  Sometimes I would substitute red onions for white, and sometimes I'd do without the tomatoes or the onions, but they all turned out well.  I did decide to only cut up the leaves and forgo the stems since they were harder to chew than celery stalks.  But the leaves were always consistent in taste and texture.

I'm about to harvest my fifth batch of chard tomorrow.  I'm about to consume the next of five dishes of healthy, nutritious, green vegetables straight from my own backyard.  And the baby leaves are still popping up!  At this rate, I think they'll continue to grow until the temperature slows them down and no longer sustain their growth.  Nutritionally, Swiss chard is rich in vitamins A, K, and C, as well as abundant in minerals, dietary fiber and proteins, and super low in calories.  It can be eaten raw--slightly bitter in taste--in salads, or cooked, which smooths out its flavor.  I shall be researching for some different ways to cook Swiss chard soon!

Of all the vegetables in my box garden, the chard was most sensitive to dehydration or extreme heat.  So for the sake of my beloved chard, I watered the backyard tirelessly to keep them hydrated.  In past years, I would start off gardening season with lots of ambition and grand plans, but by the middle of summer, sluggishness takes over and my plants dry out.  But this year, since the box garden is for food consumption, it has kept my lazy bum continuing to go out in the extreme heat to water the vegetables--making me quite proud of myself.

I hope you enjoy this slideshow:

So, Dear Swiss-Chard-From-My-Backyard, you've not only been my continual source of dark, green leafy vegetable this summer, you've even taught me a thing or two about persistence in nurturing my garden.  You've also enlightened me in ways that I never expected--in your beauty, growth, and flavor.  And now I wonder which leafy vegetable shall be your neighbor next year?  Because you are a keeper for sure!


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dear Sand

Dear Sand,

Since you are the highlight of our vacation, I decided to send my OCD away on its own vacation, and that is a Good Thing.

We are on a beach vacation, on the side of Lake Michigan where you can see the sunset over the water.  It's an absolutely breathtaking event.  On the lake, you get the total beach experience along with fresh and calmer waters, great for little ones who don't need the waves for surf-related activities.   

I am on vacation, and so is my OCD.  I am facing all the sand on the beach with a 'vacation' view.

I walk on the hot, fine sand and imagine it scrubbing away the old, dried skin on my heels.  I dig my feet into the dry sand and feel its warmth on my soles.  I walk onto the wet part of the beach and look forward to the water rushing and covering my feet, again, and again.  After each splash, I feel the water pull away the sand around the edges of my feet, and for a moment, I feel taller.  Then I sink down into the mushy, wet sand and my toes get a little buried, just enough to anchor my body in anticipation of the next wave.  And as the water washes off the sand on my toes, I shift my weight, replant my feet, and the process repeats. 

Even when I'm re-applying sunscreen on the beach, I imagine a luxurious sugar scrub that exfoliates the skin on my arms and legs, in the comfort and beauty of nature instead of an expensive, pretentious spa.

And by this point if you're laughing at me (because you know my history of OCD) and want to call my bluff--and I'm totally not bluffing--you should see my Dear Son on that beach.  My very particular little boy--who is usually bothered by the tiniest speck of dirt or grit anywhere on his body--is playing in the sand like he's Sandman himself.  He digs and scoops and shovels and brings pails of water to add to dry sand to mix and stir and pat and shape and make sandcastles and sandballs and a hole-big-enough-to-put-Daddy-in-it.  He even lays down--all on his own--to make sand angels.  Dear Husband and I look at each other and don't even recognize our own little DS.

There's something magical about the beach, indeed.

Even several years older than DS, Dear Daughter still enjoys playing with sand every bit as she did when she was a toddler.  Together with her little brother, she schemes to bury Daddy in the sand.  She experiments with different wetness of sand to make the best sandcastles, and uses dry sand as cooking condiments and wet sand as food on served up on a plate.  They've opened a restaurant and are busy serving its customers as cooks and waiters.

And they are completely in no need of us.  DH and I stand in the water and watch them from afar.  DD catches glimpses of us every now and then while she plays, and DS is pretty much totally oblivious of our whereabouts.  He just needs his shovel and pail and his Big Sis.

In the cool water on a beautifully perfect day for the beach, with the warm sun hitting our shoulders, we watch the kiddos play.  We feel the waves splash us from behind.  We feel our toes sink and lower into the earth.  We let the waves bob us to and fro.  The gentle breeze shoos away the heat on our skin, and we exhale.

Equally fun and unrelated to the beach, we encounter sand again on a sand dune ride, where a driver takes us up and down the sand dunes in a large, topless car that seats about 16 to 20 people.  The ride is fast, furious, and in parts like a roller coaster.  After the first high speed downward drop, DS looks at me, says 'Oooooooh yeeeaaaaahhhhh' and pumps his fist at the same time.  This little man who is scared of anything fast, bumpy, shaky, high, and unknown.  Huh.  Sand flies into our faces and none of us care.  That just does not happen.  The thrill of that ride completely overrides how we normally act when sand gets into our eyes and mouths.  It is amazing.  We are on vacation.  

We soak it all in.  The sun, the water, the sand, the air, the breeze.  We etch it in memory.  The anticipation, the excitement, the fun, the expected, the unexpected.  We place them all in the vault so we can reminisce The Beach come January when we're buried under a snowstorm.  Yes, we better get enough of this to last us until next Summer.  But now, we'll return home a little more relaxed, a bit grittier, and with a few more shades of sun-kissed color.  Just in time to anticipate the return of my OCD.

So, Dear Sand, you've been an unexpectedly welcomed part of this vacation, and I'm grateful for you.  So much so that I'm taking some of you home with me.  I just can't promise to look at you the same way when I do get home and have to do the laundry and see you spilled all over everywhere.  But for now, you are awesome.

Happy Summer!


Friday, July 13, 2012

Dear Do-As-I-Say

Dear Do-As-I-Say,

You are, of course, not the kind of parent I aspired to be.  But, as it seems, Parenthood has its set of unspoken privileges...

There are rules that we always mind.  We always buckle up in the car.  We always wear helmets when we're on bikes or scooters.  We always brush our teeth twice a day, no matter what.  But there are some rules that bend--for us as parents.  The kiddos, unfortunately, don't know that.  So just short of calling ourselves (Dear Husband and I) hypocrites, here are the Top Ten things that we say, "Do as I say":

10.  Share.  Of course we're supposed to share.  But have you ever started eating something and all of a sudden there's a swarm of kiddos smothering you screaming, I want some, Can I have some, too?  Yeah, me, too.  But sometimes I really don't want to share.  And that would be why two nights ago I found myself sitting at the kitchen table coveting my own bowl of watermelon, after the kids went to bed.  #idontshareifyouresleeping

9. No snacks before dinner.  The hour before dinner is sometimes hard for the kiddos.  Sometimes it's hard for me, too.  The pantry door just knows when to open itself up for those pieces of chocolates to throw themselves at me and into my mouth.  #yesimcookingasfastasican

8.  No money, no toys.  Many trips to Target warrant the same explanation for Dear Son, who always want to buy a toy.  Sometimes we are lucky enough to walk out of the store without 'extra' stuff.  Because you know, when we don't have any money for toys is exactly when a couple of music albums in our cart on amazon.com check themselves out and magically appear on our music players that very same night.  #wirelesspurchasesrock

7.  Limit screen time.  The kiddos have limited screen time for TV, Nintendo DS, and computer games.  It's hard on your eyes; You need to rest your eyes; It's not good for your eyes; yada yada yada.  Apparently the kiddos are still self-absorbed enough to at the age where they only notice their own activities while I'm glued to the laptop or my smartphone, going blind as we speak.  #theythinkimworking

6.  Eat breakfast.  The kiddos must always eat breakfast, no matter how much they don't feel like it, and especially if they are going off to school.  DH eats breakfast on weekends.  When I've eaten too much the day before, I eat breakfast coffee.  #breakfastiscreamandsugar

5.  No food or drinks upstairs.  The kiddos are lucky if they get to snack on the coffee table in the living room.  There is never any food or drinks allow upstairs for them.  But it's amazing how snacks and beverages find their way upstairs as soon as the young'uns are out cold.  #wheresmycoaster

4.  Put your toys away.  Of course the kiddos are told to put their toys away when they're done playing with them.  It's a wonder how they haven't equated their put-away toys to my three baskets of unfolded laundry.  #soonenoughtheywill

3.  Read everyday.  The kiddos both read or are read to everyday.  It's a school requirement as well as an enrichment they both enjoy.  Sure, I read everyday.  And if you count Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram reading, then I sure as heck follow that rule, too!  #sobehindonmyreadinglistthisyear

2.  Don't overeat.  We all know how awful it feels to overeat.  That's why we always tell the kiddos to 'listen to their tummies'.  When their tummies say, 'stop', then they stop eating, even when what they're eating is super delicious.  Too bad my tummy's mute.  #nowillpowerwhatsoever

1.  Eat appropriate food for meals.  No, the kiddos don't get to eat ice cream for breakfast, except on their birthdays, so it seems.  And I'm not a cold-pizza-for-breakfast kind of person.  But when Daddy's out for a work event, there's nothing more awesome than eating breakfast for dinner!  Homemade pancakes and scrambled eggs were a great hit last night!  #winwinforeveryone

Notice I left out the "not as I do" part behind "Do as I say," because the kiddos do not know what we do is any different from them.  I should have just hastagged the entire post as #shhhh.  The kiddos can continue to just 'do as I say, not as I do' until they become parents themselves, and then they will have earned the right to these 'parental privileges'.  Until then, we know what's best for you.

So, Do-As-I-Say, will ya help me keep mum and keep this our own little secret?  At least for now, while the kiddos are still young?  'Cause when they get older, you're gonna get a lot harder to uphold, and I may actually have to follow some of my own set of new rules around here.  But until then, I get to sneak snacks behind the pantry door and drink cocktails in my bedroom.  No harm, no foul.  Plus, sharing is so overrated.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dear Man Crush

Dear Man Crush,

You are not a new concept in our home.  My Dear Husband has had many of you over the years.  It's just that he's in the middle of a new one so intense that he wants to live, sleep, and Drive his new you.

I came downstairs on a weekend afternoon to find DH watching a movie.  Without looking up at me, he stated, as-a-matter-of-fact-ly, "I have a New Man.  He's my new George Clooney."  I immediately asked what he was watching, and got a little hysterical over his not telling me and watching it with me.   

Drive is the movie.  Ryan Gosling is the actor.

I asked if he had already gotten to THE elevator scene--a clip I had previous seen on the internet which helped bookmark the movie in my head--and he graciously started the movie over for me.  I think he just wanted to see the first thirteen minutes again.

You see, over the years, DH has had a few major Man Crushes on celebrities.  The earliest one I can recall is Pierce Brosnan from The Thomas Crown Affair.  You can't deny the actor's debonair qualities against Rene Russo's catty and seductive role.

Then it was Brad Pitt from his role in Ocean's Eleven.  Not only did DH drool over his wardrobe in that movie, he also drooled over the fact that only Brad Pitt can pull off a wardrobe like that.

Finally, since Ocean's Eleven and in the more recent years, it was George Clooney.  He especially liked his role in Up in the Air.  DH loves, loves, loves the scene called 'Bar Club Cards', where the actors pull out their reward cards to outrank each other's 'frequent-flyer status'.  Only Clooney can pull off that suave throw-down with his charming, smirky grin.

One of the common themes of DH's man crushes is the actors' appeal through their choice of clothing.  These guys are smooth, sharp, stylish, and hip.  I think I mentioned 'refurbishing his outdated wardrobe' back in college, but I must say that since then, he's been quite the GQ man himself, all on his own.  At the workplace, even administrative assistants make a remark or two about his attire.  Sometimes they tease him about his color choices.  To which he emphasizes, it's salmon, not pink.  And he claims to 'just be' very in touch with his feminine side.  Yup, with his pink button-down shirt and salmon-colored tie.  I think he just wishes he were a metrosexual.  But let's face it: he's your average suburban daddy with no extra spending money and too many old t-shirts and ripped cargo pants.

But he can keep wishing.  Or live vicariously through his Man Crushes.


The first time we saw Ryan Gosling was in the 2004 movie, The Notebook, for which neither of us 'had a thing'.  It was a classic chick flick.  Nothing wrong with that.  But then Gosling more recently was in the news for breaking up a street fight in NYC and saving a woman from being hit by a taxi.  Millions of women got weak in the knees and swooned.

We (DH and I) were just a little late to the swooning, because we are perpetually catching up with the newest celebrity news and pop culture.

Only a few months ago did we watch the movies Crazy, Stupid, Love and Ides of March, both starring Gosling.  The part of him in CSL where he took off his shirt actually made my lower jaw drop.  His upper torso was so perfect that he looked photoshopped.  Anyway, I liked him.  I didn't love him, but that doesn't really matter.  We're talking Man Crushes here.  'We' started to like Gosling more and more in these movies.

But it was Drive that made Gosling an official Man Crush for DH. 

So back to the movie.

Ryan Gosling drives.  He drives and listens to music.  

There's romance and violence, but 'The Driver'--his character has no name--basically, drives.  It's a character movie with plenty of haunting music that adds to the mood of driving, alone or with his girl, and with very little dialogue.  The eyes, DH says of the characters, they speak with their eyes.  He added animated commentary while I watched scenes of Carey Mulligan's character interact with The Driver--with their eyes. 

I'll admit, I liked the movie.  The shock value of violence has its place in the movie, I suppose, and definitely makes this a guy movie rather than just a chick flick.  Gosling's robotic character really captures the quiet, solitary ambiance of the movie quite well.

That very night, DH bought the soundtrack and did his after-movie online research.  This is where he found the materials to later fill me in on the whole movie spiel--from casting to director background; Gosling prepping for the movie by, um, driving; and Gosling's account of driving with the director one night to witness him pounding his knees crying, 'This is what the movie is all about!'--with unprecedented enthusiasm and fervor.

And I think I've heard the soundtrack about 253 times by now.

When I typed in 'man crush' to prepare for writing this post, Google actually automatically listed my query with 'ryan gosling' as one of the choices.  Huh.  First I saw lots of entries on Andrew Garfield admitting his man crush on Ryan Gosling.  Then I found this awesome article, Why It's Not Gay to LOVE Ryan Gosling, Guys.  It's hilarious, and I guess my DH is not alone.


On our most recent outing, DH got into the driver's seat and turned on the soundtrack to Drive.  The song 'Nightcall' (song in video above) started playing.  He looked at me with his wannabe Gosling impersonation and said, "Just call me 'The Driver', and there will be no talking; we'll speak with our eyes."  Nevermind the fact that the two kiddos and my MIL were sitting in the backseats while all this happened.

And just like that, he had me muted.  Because, one, I didn't have a quick, clever comeback for him, and two, I didn't want to acknowledge his dorky humor (the kiddos and I are used not responding to his soliloquies of not-very-funny jokes).  Yet, by not saying anything, I just quietly obliged to his ridiculous request.  Yes, he does that to me every.single.time. 

Now perhaps you will indulge me and watch and listen to this song, 'Real Hero', from the movie, and you can see all those driving scenes and how they speak with their eyes.  (This particular video could not be embedded, so you will have to click over yourself.)

So, Man Crush, you are a topic of discussion that--between DH and myself--I find quite humorous and educational entertaining.  After all, who doesn't like her man to share her taste for male celebrities and have conversations and discussions about them?  And I even get a guy's perspective on this, not just girly infatuations going gaga over hot, manly babes.  Not only will I get to hear all about Gosling's je ne sais quoi extraordinaire, but also his fashion sense, his celebrity life style, and his behind-the-scenes experiences as an actor.  I seriously can't ask for more.

Except for the impersonations.  I can do without those.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Dear Spontaneity

Dear Spontaneity,

Seeing that you are not a strong point in my own character traits, should I be alarmed that my kiddo utterly falls apart when faced with your unexpected visit?

I am by no means a spontaneous person.  I like my ducks all lined up in a row.  I like to know things in advance so I can prepare for what to expect.  I order almost always the same exact dish at restaurants.  I operate most of the time with a calendar and to-do list.  Simply, I'm your basic OCD billboard model.  Perhaps once in a blue moon every now and then I try something spontaneous for fun just for the heck of it.  But it turns out that a little family member gets completely thrown off his track that we end up with a major train derailment.

We've had record-breaking heat, like much of the rest of the country this year.  We even skipped the 4th of July parade because we knew it was going to be triple digit temps and no one except Dear Husband likes heat we would have all melted even in the shade.  Dear Husband called off being spectators to the parade for our sake but assured us that we'd go see the fireworks at night when it's only 90 degrees instead

We spent most of Independence Day indoors in the comfort of air conditioning.  Mid afternoon, I went to the kitchen to cut up a watermelon.  I normally cut them into cubes, but that day I cut some up in wedges because Dear Son ate some that way at a party and like it.  So I planned to send them outside to eat them so that Mother Nature can take care of all the juicy-drippy clean up for me.  Then, a light bulb went ding in my head.  I had bought some water balloons for the kiddos a while back, and thought they might like to play with them outside and get wet in this scorching weather.  So I abandoned my watermelon to go fill up the balloons to surprise them.

It took me much longer than I anticipated to make a tub of water balloons.  Between ripping them, spontaneous bursting, and general inexperience on my part, I was wet from waist up by the time I finished.  To keep this a surprise, I asked DH to serve the kiddos watermelon outside, and they were excited about the wedges.  Then I brought the tub of water balloons to them with a I'm-a-Rock-Star-Mom smile on my face and waited for the kiddos to squeal with delight.  Well, Dear Daughter did.  DS looked at them like they were alien eggs about to hatch into monsters that will swallow him whole.  Um, okay.

I asked DH to design games to play with the water balloons so they're not all gone in less the time it took to fill them they'd last for a while.  He and DD decided to play water balloon toss.  A few popped and splashed, and DD giggled.  DS worried about getting wet.  I grabbed one and took a cheap shot at DH to get the fun started.  But I had such bad aim that I missed and it popped on the ground, splashing DD, and she laughed.  DS worried about getting wet.  Then DH held the fort while I went inside to finish cutting up the watermelon.

A few minutes later, DS came inside, wailing.  He had slipped and fell on a wet spot and scraped both his knees.  So I worked my Mommy Magic, fixed him up with bandages, and sent him out again.  But my poor DS was literally 'broken' by the boo-boos, and by this point, falling apart and still worried about getting wet.

Outside, I held his hand and reassured him that his boo-boos were going be okay, and that it was okay to play with the water balloons and get wet.  He continued to worry about getting wet.  The next thing I knew, I got hit by a water balloon right in the stomach by a retaliatory shot from DH.  But because I wasn't flexing my ab muscles anticipating the hit, the boing-y water balloon bounced off the fat on my belly and fell splat on the ground right next to DS and GOT HIM ALL WET.  That really kind of hurt, but I had worse things to manage at the time.

DS broke into another end-of-the-world wail.  Daddy got me all weeee-eeeeet!  Puddles of tears welled up in his eyes and rolled down his cheeks.  The distress on his face was so darling yet recognizable at the same time to me.  More hugs and kisses, more Mommy Magic, and more 'it's okays' later, I got DS to calm down.  I, of course, had some urgent business to take care of.  I had to get DH back.

Suffice it to say that I came out the winner despite my very bad aim, because I got wet from one water balloon pop on my back, and DH was soaked from head to toe.  You see, seeing that DS was so bent out of shape from playing with water balloons, I told him that he can go play with the water hose--something he's used to playing--with which he gets wet all the time.  DH came home and said that DS went to town with that water hose on him to 'get him back'. 

So this fun little afternoon water activity really made me think about how much DS is like me, and in ways that may not be the best thing for him.  I wondered: has my lack of spontaneity rubbed off on him so much already?  Is it my dislike for getting wet--on myself or my kiddos--the reason why he didn't want to play with water balloons?  Is his inability to accept new experiences a result of involuntarily acquiring my genes or my scrupulous parenting?  I'm sure I'm guilty on all accounts.

But, in his defense, he has never gotten wet with water balloons before--whereas he gets wet with a water hose more than I like all the time--and it may just take some getting used to.  (We shall find out, since I have another new bag of water balloons to fill and play with.)  And, in my defense, I did find a way for him to play with water on a hot day after all.  I just had to find an activity inside his comfort zone.  Plus, DD was fine the entire time getting wet and having fun, and probably hopefully did think that I was a Rock Star watermelon-wedge-and-water-balloon Mom. 

So, Spontaneity, you came to me us on a surprise visit and rocked my DS' world.  (Granted, those skinned knees may have had something to do with the meltdown, too.)  But you also acted as a reminder that as a parent, I need to help my kiddos manage and cope with surprises in better ways as they will continue to appear in life.  As much as I need to say this to myself, I need to show the kiddos how to be--at least a little bit, every now and then--less deliberate and just roll with it.

A bit.

Every now and then.


It will be hard for me, but I sure as hell will try.  After all, DS is eating watermelon in more ways than one, and um, I had something to do with that, right?


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Dear 100th Post

Dear 100th Post,

You are a milestone that I had no idea that I'd reach when I started this blog 50 weeks ago.  Yes, it's been almost a year!  But I am ecstatic to meet you, as you are an affirmation to my newly found obsession passion.

I entered this world of blogging last summer when I started a fun kiddos blog about all the summer activities we were doing.  At the end of the summer, however, I realized that I wasn't thrilled about having the kiddos' pictures all over the internet.  I struggled with it, but I ended that blog.  But I also realized that I had a lot more to say.  So I started this one, and so it seems the words just started pouring out of my fingertips.  Here are the Top Ten things I have learned from my first 100 posts.

10.  Writing Letters.  I decided on writing letters for this blog because it puts a twist on adds a little flair to the blog.  Without explanations, readers who stuck with me would eventually see that the voice of the letters changes from second person point of view to first person--my voice, and then finally back to the second person recipient of the letter to close the letter.  This format certainly has its limitations, but it works.  I also allowed myself one picture per post that best represents the subject matter.  While I love blogs that have awesome illustrations and photos, I didn't go that route because I really wanted to focus on the writing part of it.  If I lost any readers because of that, it's okay with me.  #myfavoritewordisdear

9.  The beginning.  My very first post--Dear Missing--was short and sweet and a fitting first post.  It was a rant, and it was very me.  Since then, my posts have grown, both in depth and length.  I have written a few very long posts at the risk of losing readers' attention.  I really did try to cut down, but some things just had to be said.  I tried writing a few short poems, but they seemed stick out like sore thumbs and didn't belong here.  So then I really started to write about things that were dear and near to my heart.  Things I hoped people could relate to.  Things that resonated with moms and parents and kindred spirits.  #yeahitsallaboutme

8.  Parenting.  One year's worth of writing has taught me many things.  Because writing is an introspective process, it made me think much about my behaviors and their effects.  It made me a better parent in the process.  I discovered that I magically progressively grew more patience with the kiddos because I thought about their actions and my reactions and relived many Mommy Moments in my head in order to write about them.  But remember Zero-Sum?  Well, my extra patience has since been countered by all the time I spend ignoring the kiddos while I'm writing.  So, no, I'm not really patting myself on the back.  It all evens out.  #youwinsomeyoulosesome

7.  Filters.  Perhaps another recognizable plus for my Dear Husband is that he hears less of my yapping.  Instead of talking his head off when I have bouts of word diarrhea, I have since spent more time thinking about what and how to write.  I look at the world a little more closely and through different filters.  I notice the subtle changes in nature and tiny little nuances in everyday life.  I think about how to incorporate those things in writing to make my points more compelling or more relate-able.  It's like looking through different camera lenses: I'm always searching for the right frame of the perfect subject with which I can express a thought or paint a picture.  #musictoDHsears

6.  Routine.  Of course, practice makes improvement and growth.  I set a goal of two posts per week because I didn't want Life to take over and make excuses for me to stop writing.  I didn't want to lose momentum.  Even though this can easily result in posts that are meh, but I found it important to keep up the continuity.  After a year, it's gotten easier--since discovering my Writing Muscle, using it, and strengthening it.  Sure, it has had a Charlie horse every now and then, but it always bounced back and became more agile.  #ocdandroutinesgohandinhand

5.  Anonymity.  Shortly after I started this blog, I decided to go the 'anonymous route'.  I know that this can make my blog less personal/distinctive and more common/ordinary.  I follow many blogs that show beautiful pictures of children and husbands, and I've even become 'attached' to them because I see them and internalize their stories.  But privacy is important to me; my kiddos are young, and I don't want to ever put them in a position in the future that makes them uncomfortable in front of their peers or people in general.  So I just feel like it's better to cover my tracks now than try to undo them later.  Plus, my readers are pretty much exclusively my friends and acquaintances anyway, so they already know my family, everyone's names, and how freakin' adorable they are.  #akaDHDDDS

4.  My voice.  For me, the most important gain of writing this past year is that I found my voice.  There was a lot of searching involved.  A lot of squeezing my brain and mustering in the dark with a flashlight.  But it seems like I found it, and I'm pretty happy with it.  I do not expect or want it to be static, though, because it needs to grow and evolve.  It needs to keep getting better.  I hope that I am at least headed in that direction.  And I've realized that I may not be everyone's cuppa tea, and that has to be okay.  It's a harsh realization, but one I must accept, because writing styles really are so subjectively interpretive.  #do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do 

3.  Fears.  The biggest obstacle that I am still in the process of overcoming have encountered in writing is my own fear and anxiety.  That whisper--which has somewhat diminished over time--still voices before I hit the 'publish' button.  I can't help but ask myself, "Am I good enough?  Is this good enough?"  I guess the answer is I have grown some thicker skin over the last 99 posts, at the expense of my blood pressure, which has gone on many roller coaster rides, and of which my internist would not approve.  The fear and anxiety will probably never go away, but I call it a success when I can write and hit the 'publish' button in spite of it.  #whydoidothistomyself

2.  Promptly I Write.  Earlier this year, I came across a prompt-writing community, and decided to give creative writing a try.  Then I really got into Instagram and cameraphone photography, and started participating in some photo challenges.  Thus, my second blog, Promptly I Write, was born. It instantly gave a home to my creative writing pieces (poems and stories that would look odd here) and all the pictures I would have liked to post that I didn't place here.  My voice is here, and my creative outlet is there.  Voila, problem solved.  #promptlyiwriteandsnap

1.  Addiction.  During this one year of blogging, I've learned so much from other bloggers, writers, and storytellers in the vast blogosphere.  There are writers that are so damn good at what they do that they crush me with their awesomeness and make me feel like I will never be able to do what comes so easily to them.  But I keep coming back to this time-consuming hobby, this pay-less activity, this thing that is making me go blind.  Night after night, when everyone is asleep, you can find me sitting in my bed in the dark with an unnatural blue glow on my face, a humming machine atop my lap, and my fingers clicking away all the words inside my head that I must expel.  #mustjoinwritersanonymous

Apparently, I have a lot to say, and you readers suffer at my rantings week after week.  But the reason behind all this writing really remains in the simple fact that I really love doing it.  The fact that people are willing to follow my rants is beyond surprising and unbelievably flattering to me.  To readers that have been with me since the very beginning, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  To the friends that I have made during this period in the blogosphere, I so do appreciate your guidance and support. 

So, Dear 100th Post, I cannot believe that you are actually here.  As I click back to some of your predecessors, it truly surprises me to read all that is there.  I actually ask myself, I wrote that?  To some I think--hey, I must have been getting it on with my Writing Mojo, and to others--CODE RED, LOCK DOWN, and FIND THAT MISSING MOJO!  I can't say with certainty what the future holds for me and my blog, but I truly hope that there are many more of you to come.

Happy Milestone!